Sunday, January 31, 2010

Religious Conflict in Africa's Middle Belt

Nigeria has recently been getting some negative press as the U.S. looks into the personal history of the Christmas Day suicide bomber. This last week Hillary Clinton suggested the country breeds radicalism.

But few people likey caught another headline coming out of Nigeria, also having to do with religious based violence. Last week Jos, Nigeria erupted in violence between the town's Christian and Muslim populations. This rioting razed property all over the town, left over a 200 Christians and Muslims dead, and thousands displaced.

While the story doesn't have any direct connection with international terrorism, it's significant b/c these riots were a reprisal to predecessors taking place in 2001 and 2008, and also symptomatic of other similar Muslim-Christian outbursts that frequently erupt in this part of middle Nigeria, where the Christian populations (mostly in the South) meet the mostly-Hausa Muslim populations from the North. This religious fault line--in general, where Sub-Saharan's Northern Mulsim populations mix with Southern Christians--is sometimes called the "middle belt," and can be said to stretch horizontally across all of Africa.

The Atlantic Monthly published a very interesting expose of this issue last year called "God's Country." Also, last year an Anthropologist Barbara Cooper published a book called Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel which essentially examines a very similar type of religious tension, but this time in southern Niger.

Of course, not the entire middle belt is marred by such thick religious tension. My former post in Northern Benin and my present one in Southern Mali, for example, see the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims. Also, labels like middle belt run the risk of oversimplifiying certain conflicts that also have political competition and resource-control as root causes (i.e. Sudan).

Neverthless, the middle zone is an important area to watch, not least because this trully is one of the world's most impoverished regions. And, as we see more and more, it's also in the interest of international security to identify these kind of hotbeds where poverty thrives, and political-religious radicalism and violence seem to breed. Ultimately the best defense strategy is to address the systematic poverty and to help make these regions thrive.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reminders from Countries Next Door

It’s amazing how human tragedies can so easily sit as abstract “happenings” in our consciences. Africa has a good share of these, and I’ve found it to be true that even living on the continent it is so easy to forget what may be happening in the next country or village over. I happened to meet a couple people this week who have personalized some of these issues we read about in the news.

Last night some Peace Corps friends introduced me to a twenty-five year old Guinean refugee who in September was one among thousands of Guineans gathered at Conakry Stadium in Guinea’s capital to protest the rumor that the unstable “President” (read: military autocrat) Captain Moussa Dadis Camara’s would “run” (read: rig) in the coming elections. Government supported troops were released on the crowds, resulting in sexual assaults and over a hundread deaths. My Guinean friend said he witnessed all of this, took photos with his cell phone camera, and sadly saw his own friend shot and killed.

A second acquaintance I made this week was of the cousin of some good Malian friends. Another young guy, for the last several years he’s been one of the thousands of desperate West African Africans who annually attempt to illegally migrate into Europe, normally by sea but by other means too. Often these human smuggling attempts end in tragic stories: boats capsizing, drownings, people found dead in airplane the landing gear housings. Motivated by economic desperation and rumors of opportunity, my friend has made multiple attempts, and three formidable ones, for which he had saved (and subsequently lost) a total of about $2,000, a small fortune in local terms. His stories are pretty amazing, and include days at sea in a hand-carved boat, detainments by Spanish authorities, travels by foot across Mauritania and Morocco, and being chased by dogs and airplanes. And he wants to keep trying. Apparently one of the tragedies of such ocean-crossings is that they’re surprising addicting to those who attempt them—despite the danger and the cost.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Some Notoriety for Nigeria's [little] Neighbor

A fellow RPCV from Benin recently passed along some info along about a Freshman forward at Villanova who hails from the North of Benin. Turns Villanova's coach Jay Wright had been trying to scout out a Nigerian player at an AAU tournament when he noticed Mouphtaou Yarou.